Saturday, October 06, 2007

The Devil Wears Polish

I treated myself to a manicure and pedicure, which I do sometimes to keep the blood loss down. I am not a person who should be trusted with sharp implements, but own several. One of these days, they will find me bleeding to death from my cuticles.

The shop is staffed with Vietnamese women of all ages, none of whom speaks English well. They keep up a steady chatter among themselves, doubtless discussing their customers. I wish I understood their language so I would know what they really think of me behind their polite smiles.

I tip well and say "thank you" for everything, so hopefully they like me as much as I like them.

I was feeling particularly princessy with one lady-in-waiting working on my fingernails, ("You have nice hands, big scar," she said, tracing the seam which runs almost the length of my right middle finger. I once cut all the tendons and had to be surgically reconnected, definitive proof that I do not deserve to handle knives.) Another lady was squatting in front of me, working on my toenails. I was concerned that hunching over might be uncomfortable for her back, but she didn't seem to be in pain.

About 80 percent of California's manicurists and salon owners are of Vietnamese descent, while the number nationwide is about 40 percent. Many Vietnamese people work in nail salons because the licensing test is given in Vietnamese, which makes it possible to begin earning money almost on arrival in America without knowing a word of English.

I doubt that their burning ambition was to grow up and become manicurists in America, but economic necessity entraps them in an industry with health risks and no chance of advancement. Many of the chemicals used are considered dangerous carcinogens which can also cause birth defects.

Some of these women may have harbored dreams of becoming Rhodes Scholars, not beautifying spoiled American women, some of whom have never worked in their lives.

My Arabian Nights reverie was shattered by a voice that could have called hogs. Slaughtered them in their tracks, even. A young voluntary blond with a woman who was probably her mother was standing in the door, yelling, "Can we get a mani and a pedi and a pedi?"

The paint immediately peeled off the walls and fell to the floor. Splatttt.

It turned out they could.

Dulcinea was settled into a vibrating throne from which she commenced to give directions like a five star general at his command post. Her feet were lovingly immersed in a tub of water by the pedicurist.

"This water needs to be warmer," she yelled. "Can you make it warmer?" The pedicurist picked up the tub and hauled it to the back room, returning with presumably hotter water.

"Now it's too hot," she whined. "Can't you get it right?" I might have poured it over her head, but the pedicurist hefted the tub again and disappeared into the back room. This time, she didn't come back for several minutes.

She immersed her customer's feet again, perhaps a tad less lovingly.

I held my breath as if I had something riding on whether or not the third time was Just Right. Apparently it was, because she immediately began instructing the pedicurist on how to do her job. She demanded that her toenails be cut to her exact specifications, and made the incredibly patient young woman return to the same toe three times before she was satisfied.

She resembled a Hummel, one of those dreadfully cloying figurines manufactured in Nazi Germany during World War II which depicted cherubs of the Master Race with blond hair and pinched features cavorting through charming childhood activities like shooting squirrels while ice skating.

The manicurist asked her if she would also like her fingernails done, and she said, "No. I go somewhere else for that. A better place."

Oh, sweet.

Her mother hadn't said a single word since they arrived. I hope she was mortified to have produced such a bad seed.

Dulcinea kept staring at me. People do that sometimes and I'm not sure why as I have the usual allotment of everything, but in this instance, my disgust was probably written on my face in both English and Vietnamese.


Em said...

I'm sorry your peaceful moments of pampering were shattered by this unruly person. I hope you still enjoyed at least part of your time. And someone has very pretty feet with a sexy little toe ring! ;)

The CEO said...

The person who got the pedicure just left my house after a four day session. I am currently in recovery. I was going to write to you to ask about this phenomena. Evidently, I have led a sheltered life. I wish to return to it.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Those are not my feet. I tried to find an image that looked as much like mine as possible. And I don't have a toe ring. Maybe I should look into that.


Uh oh. Please tell me more.

I have come to prefer a sheltered life, too.

*~*Cece*~* said...

Really, is there any reason to be that rude? I hope she gets an infection under her toe nail. ;-)

Rebecca said...

"She demanded that her toenails be cut to her exact specifications,"

wow - I didn't even know that there were ALTERNATIVE ways to cut toenails. Some people are very precious, no?

And I'm an involuntary blonde, by the way, though I have had my involuntary blondeness 'assisted' in the past. :)

Sienna said...

Here is to the Vietamese staff, bless them for the great work they do; may their lives become everything they wish it to be...and Dulcinea will still be the person she is, I know which I would choose to be Hearts..

What is it that people lose their dreams and aspirations? ...and the journey of life becomes so disconnected they get off on treating some people in such a sub-human manner?


heartinsanfrancisco said...


Ooh, you really know how to hurt a guy.


Precious, yes. Oh, yes indeed. I was hoping to learn something, but no new information was forthcoming. Maybe she wanted them heart-shaped since she has such a big and kind heart.

And you're so lucky to be blonde and also beautiful not even on purpose.


I think you may be attributing a bit too much idealistic disillusionment to the young lady. She wasn't old enough to have had her hopes dashed, and is probably just a rotten spoiled brat with no manners.

I believe that as you treat others, so you become, so she may find herself in a servile relationship with someone rude and mean-spirited in her next life.

meno said...

I hate it when people are mean to service people.

There's this stupid movie "Last Holiday" where Queen Latifah gets to tell one of them off.

Stewart Sternberg said...

This was pretty scary. I'm trying to imagine a group of Vietnamese women working on giving me a wax job for my back maybe a bikini wax, and quite frankly, the image is pretty disturbing.

Irrelephant said...

It's astounding, isn't it? No matter how far you travel, no matter how many and varied and wonderful people you meet there's always someone there to whom you'd love to give a .45 caliber enema just for opening their mouths.

seventh sister said...

There are lots and lots of Vietnamese nail businesses here in Austin. I go to them from time to time. I stopped going to my favorite one for along time because I was in there about a year ago when the mother (owner) and her daughter got into raging argument in Vietnamese while the mother was working on my feet. When she finished, she started to t he back of the shop, then turned around and shook her finger at the grown daughter and really let her have it. She did this twice. I got our of the chair as quiecly as I could and was paying for my pedicure when the daughter began turning over things...the cart she had ben using, shelves of nail polish, and knocking things into the floor. I had my back to her and was literally chased out the door by rolling bottles. I have no idea what was going on between them nor do I want to.

I tried a couple of different shops and kept getting left alone with technitions with whom I could not communicate. I don't like this feeling since they are using sharp instruments and chemicals on my body.

There is not a reason that I can see for anyone being rude as the person you described. It is annoying to have someone try and tell me how to do my job when I have them on my table. Invaribly, their body is saying something entirely different from what is coming out of the mouth and I don't feel that I can do my job well under the circumstances.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I have always believed that one measure of a person is how he/she treats those in service professions.


I agree. The idea of you having a bikini wax is disturbing.

As is the idea of me having anything waxed. It sounds painful. I dislike pain.


I just wanted her gone, really. She was treating someone else horribly, and should have been taught better.


Yikes. What a story. I wouldn't have gone back either. That's pretty shocking and scary.

Minimal chemicals are used on me as I do not wear polish on my fingers, only my toes. But someone angry working on me is not what I want to pay for.

The customer was a control freak who would have been unhappy no matter what anyone did. I felt bad for the technician who had to treat her as if she were a reasonable person.

Tanya Brown said...

If there isn't a special place in hell for people who mistreat service personnel, there should be.

I don't know what I find more shocking - the daughter's behavior or the fact that her mother did nothing about it.

the walking man said...

I bet they just tipped the hell out of those women too 20 for the pedicure and 80 more for a tip right?

I worked in the service sector for a number of years and the only people I ever abused were my dumb ass foremen. ha ha ha



urban-urchin said...

they stare because you're beautiful. people like that amaze me. last week at a cafe near work the girl in front of me and i made fun of such a woman in a way that the woman could hear- to call her on her BS. She was waving a 5 and shouting in a thick queens accent- i have cash hello! hello! i have cash and I want to order now! so obnoxious not to mention jumping the line.

WNG said...

My goodness Hearts! I can't believe anyone would be so rude! What you needed was afriend there with you so you could talk loudly about how some mothers really ought to teach their children better manners.
I once told Mama G that it made me a little uncomfortable, wondering what the salon ladies were saying about us and she said "Why on Earth would they be talking about you? They do have lives, you know!" I thought you might like that :)

Paige Jennifer said...

Oh sweet Jesus. You KNOW they are talking smack about her. While they smile. And nod. It's all about the nod.

The one time I tried to do my own pedicure my mother said (and I quote) - it looks like you put your feet in a blender. She then shoved a wad of cash in my hand and made me promise to never ever do my own pedi again.

Open Grove Claudia said...

I worked with a guy who was on a boat from Vietnam. They lived on that boat, through pirates, robbers, rapists, and every other horrible thing, for over two years. Amazing.

As for your friend, we should just shoot her and put her out of our misery.

Josie said...

Hearts, many of our manicurists and hairdressers here in Vancouver are Vietnamese as well, and they're wonderful. I can't imagine anyone being rude to folks like that. Well, there is no accounting for TPT, is there?

I had to delete my blog, but you can reconnect with my new one through this comment. *sigh*


heartinsanfrancisco said...


If you can't teach your children manners, you shouldn't have them.

The woman looked slightly embarrassed but not surprised, so the daughter's behavior was standard issue, I think.


I doubt they tipped at all. After all, they honored the place with their presence.

I have worked in many jobs, and at one time, I took a vow that I would never again work in food service or retail. Too many people treat those they regard as inferior badly because they have to take it.


You mean it isn't because I have three heads? That is such a relief.

For the Queens accent alone she should be offed, as well as that infuriatingly sarcastic "hello" that is so prevalent.


Mama G rocks. She's probably right except for maybe the occasional catty remark about extreme customers like our girl.


When I do my own nails, I end up wearing 10 bandaids, and I really hate getting all that blood in the blender.


Somebody should put her out of our misery for sure.

That's an amazing story. I think that we are all stronger than we know until we have to be.


I'm glad you didn't go away altogether, and I've already changed my sidebar.

Molly said...

I'm trying to think of a phrase I've never used before.....Ah! I think I've got it! Dulcinea is the type who'd make you want to "pack heat" when you go to the nail salon, just in case she or her ilk ever show up there again...

Anonymous said...

I don't get them often, but when I do, I always feel bad and guilty, like i should help out or something. Its not really natural for me to be worked on.

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

Oh Hearts,

I deeply admire your tact and presence of mind.

I know that I would not have been so patient and gracious. I'm afraid I'd have embarrassed all hell out both the mother and the daughter to the best of my ability or at the very least made the daughter think twice about treating anyone performing a service for her with such indignation, and it wouldn't have been said in hushed tones.

The trick would probably have been to do it without cussing; one can't prove a point if the method of delivery detracts from the core of the message.

Good post.

Scarlett & Viaggiatore

I am not Star Jones said...

wondering why her mother said nothing? maybe when she gave birth to this delightful creature, she made time for a lobotomy, too?

MsLittlePea said...

Well, as the daughter of someone who speaks a different language, it's not always what you think. My mom will switch languages if she's telling something embarrassing but mostly it's just more comfortable for her to speak in her native tongue.
Now my husband and I are a different story. If we switch to French, we're usually gossiping or complaining.

I live around 'weekly mani-pedi, complain the whole time' sort of women. I felt like I was listening to a similar moment I had at Starbucks the other day.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


You must be a Law & Order afficionado. Unfortunately, after the momentary satisfaction of blowing her away, I would be a perp living behind bars. On death row.

If I'm going to die for someone, it is going to be someone I care about.


It isn't natural for me either. I'm working on it.


You're so right that nothing is gained if the method of delivery detracts from the message. They first have to hear you, and there was simply no way to express myself without escalating the whole thing.


That must be it. Lobotomy -- for the woman who has everything.

Sweet Pea,

Of course, they all trundle down to Starbucks afterward so they can boss the barista around while ordering their lowfat lattes.

la cubana gringa said...

Indeed...the language of disgust is universal! That kind of behavior really, really irritates me...what's even worse to think about is that if people like that travel around the world, they convey an image of Americans that is utterly embarrassing. (But then again, we DO have GWB in we pretty much have embarrassment covered!)

heartinsanfrancisco said...

La Cubana,

Gee, you think? He has single-handedly put America's reputation in the dumpster so that the entire world now hates us.

This appalling young woman could have been a Bush daughter.

I usually pretend to be something else when I travel. Last time I was in Europe, I passed for French (as long as nobody engaged me in more than casual conversation.)

Angela said...

I wholeheartedly agree with the idea that if you can't/won't teach your children manners that you shouldn't have them. I personally can't take credit for my daughter's good manners, but I was smart enough to marry a man who had that under control. And I help. I, too, second the wishes for a more peaceful time next time for you. (And the poor women who have to deal with people like that. Yuck.)

Liz said...

This kind of behavior is something I see far too often here in Los Angeles. I wish salon owners would up signs about refusing service for racist or smug, superior behavior. Behavior like that is a pet peeve of mine and it makes me feel incredibly bad when I go to the salon. I also get bothered by the fact that the women get such a small percent of the cost of the service. I always leave a large tip for them because I know they aren't getting much.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Children usually treat people the way they are treated. If only all parents treated their children with respect instead of as inferior beings, we would have a much kinder world.


I hate to see anyone treated badly, and I always tip everyone who does anything for me well. I can't change their lives, but I can at least show them respect as fellow humans.

Ian Lidster said...

Some people are just plain evil and they will deserve whatever horrible befalls them. Sorry, but I'm unwavering in that. Karma'll git ya if you don't watch out.
On the other hand, show me a woman with tartilly painted nails, and I'm hers. Good blog. But, since it's from you, that's almost redundant.

Anonymous said...


Another amazing story, told in your typical wonderful fashion. This story reeks of being so outlandish and yet, at the same time, so typical. I have no doubts the mother sat there, pleased with her offspring, "telling the foreigners like it is."

And I giggled (out loud) at ". . .(she) kept staring at me. People do that sometimes and I'm not sure why as I have the usual allotment of everything."

You capture some no-so-beautiful pictures beautifully.

Kevin Charnas said...

I'm telling one ever listens to me, but pepper spray is the answer. It works in every language.

Hey, I've given you an award, my sweets.

Angela said...

Amen to that, sister.

Melanie said...

i have had similar experiences in the Vietnamese nail salons here in CA and in TX. Spoiled pampered women and teenagers that can't be grateful to someone else is doing their nasty feet for them. That since they are "paying" (for a minimal price) they are "entitled" to be demanding and rude.

I find myself glaring at them with disgust and rolling my eyes along with the Vietnamese gals, hoping secretly they will be extra rough, and sloppy with those that can't show respect.

Catherine said...

Ooof. That is horrible.

My husband is always trying to get me to leave my cuticles alone, so he too must expect me to bleed to death from them someday. :)

Thanks so much for coming by and for your comments - I look forward to getting to know you better!

furiousBall said...

You do have nice feet. And I mean that in a completely uncreepy way.

People like that are their own punishment. They will isolate themselves more and more by being shitty to the people around them. It's barely worth getting mad at them, they're so sad.

Lex said...

"a young voluntary blonde" :)

Thanks for the insight into why so many Vietnamese are in that profession.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Does it count if only her toenails are tartily painted?


Sometimes I would like to belong to some race other than human. So many of us are blowing it.


Oh, boy, an award! I'll be right there, and I'll take two of the pepper sprays, please.


That's the only part of the prayer I remember.


I can't imagine why people think paying for something entitles them to be rude. Re-education is in order... or pepper spray, as Kevin suggested.


I'm very glad I found your blog through Chani, and I'll be back soon and often.

Thank you for visiting mine!


First of all, they're not my feet, just a remarkable simulation.

You speak very wise words about the probable fate of rude and nasty people. Alienation is a very effective teacher.


I always wondered.

I guess being blond is a rough job but somebody has to do it.

Odat said...

The bitch!!!

Peace! lol

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Um, yeah. With a capital "B."

NMJ said...

Hey Heart in San Fran, This is a great post, I have such fury at this spoiled brat, I wish they'd accidentally scalded her spoiled little toes. It is hellish that the salon women have to put up with such disrespectful, loutish behaviour.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Loutish is the perfect word for the behavior I witnessed, and sadly, that incident was probably not unusual.

I, too, wish that scalding water had been employed without, of course, consequences to the young woman who wielded it.

Jocelyn said...

Your writing talent is immense. See, I want you to start a regular series of mani/pedi posts. I loved this one so much.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Thank you! Seriously, THANK YOU.

I would love to be in your class.